Heterogeneity in the structure of the envelope proteins has been observed in many human and animal retroviruses and may influence pathogenicity. However, the biological significance of this heterogeneity and the mechanisms by which it is generated are poorly understood. We have studied a mouse model in which the envelope gene structure of lymphoma-associated viruses appears to be controlled by a single host gene. The inoculation of HRS and CWD mice with a leukemogenic murine leukemia virus (MuLV) results in recombination between the injected virus and envelope gene sequences of endogenous retroviruses. The genomes of HRS (class I) env recombinants and CWD (class II) env recombinants differ in the sequences encoding the NH2-terminal portion of the transmembrane envelope protein (TM). We have shown that an HRS gene linked to the MHC on chromosome 17 mediates a dominant selection for recombinant retroviruses with the class I envelope gene structure. CBA mice, which share the H-2k haplotype with HRS, also carry the dominant allele at this locus. This system provides a useful model for studies of host factors involved in the selection of specific variants of pathogenic retroviruses.

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